Sunday, 6 April 2014

My Stance on Gay Marriage and Why I am a Hypocrite




Within the last year I have decided that it is impossible for me to believe that a canonical interpretation of Scripture can support gay marriage. Marriage as a union between a man and a woman for the purpose of child bearing is deeply founded in a canonical and traditional theology of the body, ecclesiology, eschatology, and even a general Christological framework as it has been understood throughout Christian and Jewish time and space. Of course our theological understandings and hermeneutics based on cultural change always open us up to rethinking things over time (usually for the purpose of justice and peace), but it has to be grounded in strong Biblical precedent and should be able to show that in the long run it will create more peace and unity in the church and the general human family. What is often downplayed in our society is that personal conviction acted out upon society often creates more harm, division, and violence then it is worth. Of course, there have also been times in history where personal conviction turns into communal conviction, and that, along with strong Biblical precedent for that conviction improves society (abolition of slavery as an example). 

In the case of gay marriage however there is simply not enough canonical evidence or support from the global church to change our understanding of marriage, nor is there as much at stake for LGBTQ couples. As oppressive as marriage inequality is (implicit with it is societal homophobia which often isolates and damages LGBTQ people, particularly in small rural communities), it is not forced labor or sex trafficking children. That being said, within the western world I support civil based unions/marriages with their central values being monogamy, fidelity, and mutual love. Within this generalized view of marriage, western culture is able counteract individual inequality. From a Christian perspective however this cultural definition is simply too much of an alteration from the traditional Christian and Jewish understandings and in the long run will do more harm than good if it continues to be forcibly globalized (or at least strongly encouraged with sanctions for those countries who refuse to oblige. See “Global Culture Wars” by R.R. Reno, First Things April 2014). What has happened in the past few weeks with World Vision is a great example of the harm that can come from forcing a large majority of people into a different value system they are not comfortable with (regardless of whether their response was right or wrong).
                 
      Holding to this stance also makes me a bit of a hypocrite. As someone who has recently become engaged, forming a biological lineage for God’s glory is often the last thing on my mind. I am in love with my future wife, and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. She is the one I ache to be with, and desire to share my thoughts and space with more than anyone else. She is my best friend, my confidant, and the object of my lust. From a Christian perspective this has only limited relevance to what marriage is about. Occasionally I look into her eyes and perceive a future matriarch who has both the strength and wisdom to lead our children and grandchildren into their own maturation. But this is often an afterthought.       
               
    It is in these moments where I think about how difficult it must to be an LGTBQ person trying to live the traditional Christian life. Our culture inundates us with what a good life must be. A happy life is a life where finding romantic love and sexual fulfillment are a must have.  Leading a life of celibacy is foolishness, and marriage for the central purpose of procreation is not even on the radar. Marriage, even for the general purpose of forming a better world is barely even on the radar!

We have narrowed the purpose of life down to individual relationality, with very little focus on the greater good of a society.

We boast in the glory and goodness of human rights, yet ignore what it means to have a responsibility to our family and the formation of our Children (traditionally this is why marriage has offered tax breaks).  As long as all civil services are generically equal and you don’t directly harm or infringe upon anyone else you are free to do whatever you want. As someone who has been heavily influenced by modern values I cringe when I think of the unfair advantage that comes from being a heterosexual male. From the Christian perspective I am allowed to be married for the purpose of procreation, while someone from the LGBTQ community is called to live a life of celibacy. My wife will have to bear our children, while at the biological level I am simply called to provide the sperm. These realities seem to be extraordinarily unfair, yet this is the life we are called to as Christians.

The life of Christ seems to only further support a certain level of submission to forces of inequality. Throughout the New Testament we see a calling to take up our cross and imitate Christ’s suffering despite the reality of inequality in the world. 1 Peter 2:18 calls for those in slavery to “submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” As oppression becomes increasingly more implicit within western society, and the insidious ideology of self-autonomy continues to pervade, the Christian tension between submitting to what God’s  Word has to say on the nature of the world, and working to provide individual compassion and care will only increase.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Learning to Submit to Authority While Remaining Honest About Injustice



                In Ephraim Radner’s book Hope Among The Fragments he suggests that the Donatists “saw the practices of the Christian Church as corrupted and corrupting because of the sinful character of particular priests and lay people who might participate in them,” while “Augustine insisted that Christ’s sanctifying work in baptism and ordination, in particular, was effective over and beyond whatever sullying secrets were harbored by Church members who might participate in these rites. Since God alone effected his plan for the Church through these rites, the disposition of human participants was not determinative of their value for the Church (or world) as a whole” (Hope Among The Fragments, Ephraim Radner, 153).  
               
                 On one level Augustine is right. The work of the Holy Spirit will continue to move throughout history regardless of how sinful people attempt to pervert God's Work. But this is not simply a debate about the importance of human righteousness vs. Divine Providence. The Donatists were Christians before Rome had become a Christian state and they were economically oppressed as Christians by Rome. Now this same “Christian” Empire, was trying to tell them that they are no longer the real Christians. In fact with Augustine’s newly minted Just War Theory, they would be violently oppressed as heretics (The Story of Christianity, Justo Gonzalez, 176-179). This is the danger of our conformity to power and authority; all too often it produces numbness to injustice. Yet standing up for our individual convictions in defiance of our leaders often undermines the common good of a society or religious community, and only further creates more division and injustice.

    How then are we to act in the midst of this dilemma? Scripture calls us to submit to the authorities in our lives even as we look for opportunities to communally push our leaders toward a greater good. 1 Peter 2 tells us that as “slaves, in reverent fear of God” we are called to submit ourselves to our “masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who treat you unjustly” (2:18-20). Jesus suffered patiently, “ giving us an example to follow in his footsteps; he does not lash back, he does not resist, he trusts only in God’s judgment” (1 Peter 2:21-25). The leaders of the church are called to be “willing examples of Christ’s sufferings for their flock,” while “others in the church are to be subject to the elders themselves” (1 Peter 5:1-5).
  
Learning how to leave room for a Prophetic Imagination within this hierarchical based church structure is the central question on my mind these days. How are we to imitate a Christ who eats with, washes the feet of, and maintains Judas’ place as an Apostle (even as Christ knows what Judas intends to do), but also calls out corrupt religious leaders as a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:33)?

Friday, 20 December 2013

Pain and Promise: Thoughts on Historical and Figural Interpretation



                The misuse of Scripture by the historical critical perspective has been well documented. Whether it is the silliness of the Jesus Seminar, or trying to prove that Adam and Eve once existed as historical people, these interpretive experiments have often been adventures in missing the point of the canonical Scripture. The central interpretive purpose of the Christian church should be to see Jesus Christ as the “golden thread which runs through the whole of the Scripture” (Gertrude Hove). 

For theologian Ephraim Radner this implies a “deliberate setting aside of certain historical presumptions” for the sake of seeing Jesus Christ in the text. When parts of a text identify characteristics of Jesus, we are called to see the text as a description of Jesus Christ. When a texts’ “narrative whole resonates with the grande themes of Jesus own life” we are called to see Jesus Christ. This way of thinking about Scripture rests on the presupposition that God is ordering “the Bible according to his own creation and recreation of human history” (Hope Among The Fragments, 98-99). It should show us that Christ’s suffering, his broken body, is calling us to suffer for one another as his Church (Colossians 1:24). 

In our modern context the problem that sometimes occurs with this Christological reading of Scripture is that we jump straight to our new life in Christ without recognizes the reality of suffering that still exists in a world that is not yet. We assume that reading Christ into the whole of the Scripture means that we can ignore the pain and brokenness of a Hebrew people, and say “well things were pretty bad before Jesus, but now that we have been made new we don’t have to worry about that anymore.” We assume that because were in Christ things will be so much better, thing will be so much happier, everything will be “so radically new” as Brian Walsh poignantly suggests in his most recent Advent blog post.

 A lot of this is due to the influence of the “principalities and powers” that surround us. The empire wants to numb us so we don’t feel the pain of our own lives, and the lives of those around us (so will continue to operate without question in the system it has designed). This is where a historical look at Scripture can reveal the pain of the people in that text, and relay to us our own pain that we so much want to resist. In Walter Brueggeman’s “Unity and Dynamic in Isaiah” he critiques the father of modern canonical interpretation Brevard Child’s for jumping to quickly from the Judgment of early Isaiah to the promises of God in later Isaiah. For Brueggeman the Judgment or social critique of early Isaiah leaves room for an embrace of pain in the middle of the book and slow movement toward God’s promises. Child’s is moving too quickly from the old to the new without recognizing the pain that is involved. It is here where a historical look at the people in Scripture can keep us in the reality of our brokenness as we “wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). While Radner sees the over emphasis of historical critical tools as “an almost gnostic yearning for release from a world that is to be cut loose from God” (Hope Among The Fragments, 108) Walsh and Brueggeman see an overly spiritualized view of Scripture as its own gnostic denial of pain in the Christian life.            

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Stephen Harper is not the Problem; You Are


I have to admit I am getting a little sick and tired of quasi-marxist Christians demanding a radical shift in the global economic system, when positive change is more likely to occur from compromise, negotiation, and relationship. The reality is that Saint Paul likely sold his tents for.....wait for it......money, Jesus Christ likely sold his furniture, and Lydia sold her purple clothe. They operated within a market driven model. This wasn't compromising Jubilee or the early Christian model of giving to one another “as they had need” (Acts 2:45, 4:32-35) it was choosing to operate in the world they lived. It was choosing to exist as Christians between the now and the not yet. It seems so often people want to operate out of a black and white moral compass regardless of their political or theological worldview. Calgarians are the conservative Christians who even entertain parties like the Wild Rose, yet their Mayor is Naheed Nenshi. People from Toronto are the progressive liberals, yet they elect Rob Ford. Maybe the reality is that people are more willing to entertain different political and religious systems if they perceive them as coherent to their context and social need. My Dad is a small-c conservative Christian who voted for the Green party in the last federal election. He votes Wild Rose provincially. He didn't do it because he was blinded but God himself on the road to Damascus, he did it because Elizabeth May had the most fiscally responsible budget model, aside from an obviously corrupt and manipulative Stephen Harper. We don't have to operate as black and white ideologues to enable change, we need to listen to each other and be willing to compromise. This is true courage. I long for the day when Jubilee is enacted by God himself, but until that day comes we need patiently and relationally promote Kingdom values even as we choose to work within our social and economic context.  

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Canada’s Broken Prophet -- Theoren Fleury



The popular television series Friday Night Lights has a special resonance for those who have been influenced by and recognize the deep relationship between a specific sport and country whose national identity is affiliated with it. In Friday Night Lights that “country” is Texas and their sport is Football. In Canada it is hockey.  As a Canadian kid whose only dream was to be a hockey player until I was 19 years old, Theoren Fleury was my role model. Theoren Fleury was a smaller player whose ability was not fully recognized until he proved himself on the biggest stage (The NHL). He was skilled, fast, and most importantly, he was fearless. Like Fleury, hockey was the best way for me to glimpse heaven, to glimpse God’s glory. “Salvation and escape” and are not too strong of words to describe this game for young kids in Canada (Playing With Fire, 8). Hockey was the constant, in the midst of whatever we were dealing with off the ice.  I can only imagine what it would be like for a young player’s coach to betray him the way Graham James did. As a young boy Theoren Fleury was sexually and emotionally abused. But Fleury would stay quiet because he decided that in order to reach his promised land (The NHL) he would have to be willing to descend into hell itself.  

This breach of trust and abuse from his coach would lead him down a trail of drug, alcohol, and sex addiction. With how the media critiques the Catholic church it might seem unbelievable to learn that his childhood priest was a source of comfort and friendship for him, while Graham James the noble hockey coach was the villain. But this is the reality of power, it doesn't matter where it is coming from, it will almost always lead to corruption. In an interview with sports writer Eric Francis, Graham James is reported to have said he wished he was born in Roman times because back then “it was acceptable to have boys as partners” (Playing With Fire, 154).

In his own life, Fleury has not always been a good husband or father. Yet he has asked those he loves for forgiveness and is often a powerful voice against the corruption of his sport and country. While playing for a First Nation’s team toward the end of his career (he is part Cree and Metis) he experienced first-hand Canada’s racism against Native people.  In an 2005 interview with the Edmonton Sun Fleury states:

"The one thing that's really bothered me through this whole thing is the prejudice, still, in this country when it comes to Native people. I've seen it first-hand in every building we go into, how these people are treated, and it's absolutely embarrassing to be a Canadian and know that stuff is still going on."

This is coming from a guy who is deeply in love with his country and has helped us win a number of gold medals on the world stage, including the Olympics in 2002. I have never seen anyone more excited to make a team than when Fleury made Team Canada in 2002.
                
              Today, Fleury is sober and grounded in the reality that there is a power greater then himself.  He uses the tradition of his ancestors to keep himself centered and in relational awareness of God (The Great Spirit). He uses sage, sweet-grass, and smudging, to “get rid of negative spirits” and buries ashes in the four corners of his yard “every morning for protection” (Playing With Fire, 337). He also uses the ancient method of “sweats” to purge himself of negative thoughts, and is a public speaker for Native kids all over the country. In a time where a more militant secular worldview is challenging people of all religious worldviews, the elders of the First Nations people all over Canada fear that “the heart of the people will disappear because their children don’t speak the language or follow the traditions” (Playing With Fire, 322).     
               
               I fear this for Christianity as well. While it is the most popular religion in Canada, it is being transformed by powerful societal undercurrents of corporate division, and individual autonomy. Fleury’s mom was a Jehovah’s Witness, which according to Fleury taught him mixed messages against his Catholic upbringing because the Trinity was taught to be “inspired by Satan” yet here he was “praying to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost every day" he thought he "was in league with the devil” (Playing With Fire, 12). Fleury is moving in the right direction by looking into the tradition of his ancestors, and concerning himself with the public good of his community. He has begun to appreciate what Christian theologian G.K. Chesterton calls the “democracy of the dead.”

      

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Ignoring Pain with Post-Liberal Theology


Remember the good ole days when Christianity was all anyone ever talked about? You know those good ole days...sometime between 400 and 1800 Common Era. When all we talked about was the nature of Christ instead of Miley Cyrus. We knew the Bible inside and out because MTV didn't exist yet. The Bible was about something more then just who wrote it, when, and why...it was about canonical inspiration, absolute truth...

The great theologians of the middle ages and the reformation had a lot of important theological insights, and much of it relates to the world we live in today. But the people who wrote the Bible itself also have a lot to say to our world. They often speak as a community in exile, often in the midst of persecution, often as sinners...they like us lived outside of Christendom. We like them live in a world where suffering and pain is a reality that exists all around us and the Bible has a lot to say about pain. Scripture is about more then just intertextual alignment.

In his unpublished systematic theology Post-Liberal theologian David Yaego tells us that before we engage in modern historical interpretation we need to first and foremost see Scripture as a signpost for our new reality in Christ. I would believe Yaego if every reference to our current culture context wasn't about theological correction...here is how the feminists get it wrong..here is how our Christian culture falls into modalism...Who are you defending Orthodoxy to anyway? Who do you think is reading your book?

If we want Scripture to point to Christ in this world, here and now, then we need to acknowledge the suffering that is in it. Israel was God's chosen people and they failed. They got into bed with idols, they committed genocide, they were people enslaved who chose to enslave. Why? To build a temple. Even if God remains faithful to them, there is still consequences for actions and this consequence is often exile.

In the new covenant Christians are God's chosen people and we to have failed him. Christ called us to live counter culturally against the oppression of women, against the segregation of human races, against the slavery of people. There are consequences for actions and refusing to face this reality will not helping anything. I get it. If you read scripture solely for intertextual insight you never really have to deal with the emotional consequences of the people your reading about. Even better you can further transpose an Augustian, Lutheran, or Thomist perspective and get another step further away from the contextual reality and another step further away from the suffering and injustice that is in the Scriptures and in the world around you. You never really have to deal with the emotional and physical reality of how Israel failed and you never have to deal with how Christians failed and continue to fail.

Intertexuality is great, but it is meaningless if it isn't interrelation. I am not saying we pander to political ideologies or stop declaring the creeds. I am saying that only being a good Christian who reads his Bible, reads theology, prays, and goes to Church is ignoring reality; it is living in a fantasy world. Peter J Leithart declares that “Only the good can be good teachers; only the obedient can hear.” I am not convinced. I think the broken also hear God, the broken teach us about his true nature of Grace. Israel is desperate and God calls them to listen, Peter denies Christ and the prophecy is remembered, Paul is broken on the road to damascus and God speaks. The consequences for their actions have only just begun, but God is heard loud and clear. If we assume that we are to just live moral and obedient lives and relevant interpretation will come, then we are fooling ourselves.
Leithart goes on to say that “Again and again, Israel closes herself to God’s word. Isaiah preaches to the deaf and dull of heart, and Jeremiah’s audience closes its ears to his stern message of doom. Jesus, the last prophet, hears and does his Father’s will, and he spends his days making priests. With a touch, he loosens tongues to sing his praise. By the finger of his Spirit, he bores into our ears so the Father’s word can enter and capture our hearts.”

Amen. But we don't look like Jeremiah or Isaiah. We look more like King Saul desperately trying to hold onto his Kingship, we look more like David on his deathbed. If we want to convict culture and inspire new realities like the prophetic voices of old, we need to to first admit we have lost the kingdom, and for good reason.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Russell Brand the Postmodern Prophet



            The first time I encountered Russell Brand's thought was when he interviewed the Westboro Baptist Church and juxtaposed them with some rather liberal Christians. I found this exercise pointless and doubted I could ever give him another chance at bringing forward any meaningful conversation or thought to my universe. However, after a couple months I realized that if I can still enjoy Richard Dawkins on occasion, despite that fact he makes similar types of fruitless arguments toward the end of his book God Delusion (as though a handful of rude Christians or a handful of really open minded Christians represent any real spectrum of Christian thought) then I can give Brand a second chance as well.  
            My girlfriend also happens to be rather fond of Brand, so in an effort to give him a second chance, I acquired tickets for his Aug 23rd show in Calgary. The stand up show which is entitled Messiah Complex represents an interesting mix of religious pluralism, a touch of postmodern philosophy in the vein of Jean-Francois Lyotard's incredulity toward's metanarratives (whether Brand realizes it or not), along with a few standard sex jokes.
           
            Brand is fully aware that in today's context we have to be intentional about who we are and what we want to follow; otherwise what we understand to be true will be falsified and manipulated for the purpose of those who seek to control us. State authority, corporate advertisers, and religious leaders will often seek to manipulate what is true for their own gain. Che Guevara was a man who was respected for his firm communist ideology along with being incredibly violent. Today he is reduced to a t-shirt logo. Ghandi has become the symbol of all that is good in the world, yet he treated his wife in a way that most today would not approve. In order to describe the world faithfully it requires nuance.

Most impressive was Brand's introduction of modern philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and G.K.Chesterton. Brand described how Nietzsche declares that “God is dead” because society is no longer under the authority of a Christian nation. According to Brand, Chesterton counters that despite this reality; people will still create objects of worship of their own accord. This warning of idolatry continued all throughout his show. In the midst of a diverse and packed out crowd of young and old, Brand was preaching to an audience that most Canadian churches today would dream of having.


While I am excited for the ideas that Russell Brand is bringing forward in his most recent tour, my warning to him is that as a religious pluralist he will never truly be able to immerse himself in the truth of any one religion. For Brand the central message of Christ is simply to love one another. And this generically seems to be what he believes to be the centrality of most religions. By denying the particularity of a belief system, he will never be able to experience the truth of it from the inside out. It will always be as a passing critical observer. While Brand is correct in suggesting that there really is no conclusive historical evidence for any one faith over another, this doesn't mean that the best way to engage them is as though you are at a buffet. Christianity is most real when you are inside of it, and I assume that most people of faith who believe their religion to be ultimate reality would suggest the same. This doesn't mean that there isn't truth in most religions; it simply means that in order experience the heart of a tradition, you have to enter into it fully and submit yourself to it. For us Christians this means that Jesus Christ has never given us the option to simply see him as a good guy or a great teacher. He demands that we see him as God incarnate; he demands that we see his death and resurrection as the ultimate work of his power and glory for the world he created. If we refuse to see this, the truth we see in Christ will always be but a hint of who he truly is. If Russell Brand refuses to dive into one religion with all his heart, he will always be left with crumbs of truth, and never the meal.